Laetitia Adam-Rabel’s Homages to Motherhood

By May 17, 2024

There is a sense of magic and mythology in the work of Haitian-American visual artist and photographer Laetitia Adam-Rabel. In her interdisciplinary practice, she works at the intersection of immigration, climate change, Blackness, feminism, and the role of motherhood in creating better worlds. Her work delves into sirens, corals, she-creatures in the form of doll-like sculptures, and an intertwined togetherness between mother and daughter. When she paints the ocean, it is an iridescent Caribbean blue or, at times darker to symbolize the effects of climate change. “When I was a child in Haiti, I grew up with a certain love for water as a nurturing and calming element, yet it can also be fierce and devastating,” she said.

Laetitia Adam-Rabel (Laeti), La Lección (The Lesson), (2024), digital photography, dimensions variable.

Adam-Rabel’s research on diasporic mythologies and water deities is currently informing a new series she is working on with her daughter, Analea. She incorporates issues such as Miami’s rising sea level crisis, mermaid iconography, and allusions to the Orishas and water deities such as Yemaya, Mami Wata, and Oshun in underwater photography. According to African cosmologies and Black mermaid mythology, enslaved people who went overboard while inhumanely transported to America and Europe during the trans-Atlantic slave trade became transformed into water creatures and mermaids (Martinez, 2023). “I think it’s only natural to incorporate the mermaid as the mother figure, protecting those beings thrown overboard,” she shares.

Laetitia Adam-Rabel (Laeti), DNA Floating Through Time and Space (2021), collage, flocking, watercolor, and metallic paint on raw canvas, 24” x 36”.

Being a parent and an artist comes with numerous challenges, but to Adam-Rabel, the labor of parenthood has informed and inspired her on the road to growth as an artist and becoming herself. She recalls an early memory of being abruptly separated from her daughter, Analea. After giving birth at the hospital, her baby’s heart rate was dropping, so instead of handing the newborn to her mother immediately after birth, she was taken to the side for an intervention. From the hospital bed, Adam-Rabel called out to her baby daughter, like the song of a mermaid, “Come to mamma”. Minutes later, the doctor announced that Analea’s heart rate had returned to normal. “Since early on, that moment of fear gave me that closeness to her and our bond. We are so close to the point that we are always working together.”

Laetitia Adam-Rabel (Laeti), She Creatures (Zuli, Mer-Lady, Deer-Lady) 2023, polymer clay, yarn, acrylic paint and metal wire, dimensions variable.

After her daughter was born, Adam-Rabel, like many parents, realized she would have limited time to spend in the studio while also tending to her daughter. So, as soon as Analea could hold a pencil, Adam-Rabel considered experimenting with mother-child collaborations. “How about we try working together? Let’s see how that goes,”. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic started, and making art became their refuge. “Collaborating with my daughter was something I always wanted to do naturally because both I and her father are artists,” she told me, “but it was also a survival tactic for me.” How Not to Exclude Artist Mothers (and Other Parents) by Hettie Judah (2022) highlights the importance of fighting for an art world that includes artist mothers and other parents. “When an artist discovers she is pregnant, she should not immediately be gripped by the anxious prospect of having commissions canceled, abandoning her studio practice, and losing sight of a fruitful career. Parenthood should be the start, not the end of things,” Judah writes.

Laetitia Adam-Rabel (Laeti), Mother and Child Too (2021), digital photography, dimensions variable.

Co-creating with her daughter, now five, Adam-Rabel’s artworks powerfully capture the beauty of Black motherhood, childhood, and the ebb and flow of bonds and independence between children and caretakers. Her work has been exhibited at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Westport, CT, The Camp Gallery, and the Little Haiti Cultural Complex in Miami, FL. On their kitchen counter or the patio of her sunlit Miami Beach apartment, Analea was one year and a half old, and they both began a new process. Each would work on their drawings and paintings while listening to “Bonne Nouvelle” by Flavia Coelho, the Verve, Celia Cruz songs, and “Run the World (Girls)” by Beyoncé, among others, Adam-Rabel recalls.

Laetitia Adam-Rabel (Laeti) and Analea Adam-Rabel, Mother and Child Three (2022), digital photography, collage, and acrylic paint on canvas, 24″ x 20″.

At times, Analea would leave her own marks on her mother’s work, so she decided to call that series Reclaimed. Through those months, they found a rhythm that, like life and parenting, included working together and separately with each other. Parenthood and caretaking by nature involve countless moments of exclusion due to structures in the art world that hinder artist parents’ participation: lack of childcare options, and lack of representation of BIPOC artists to name a few. At the same time, taking care of a young life can also inspire new creativity and energy. “Watching Analea kicked my creativity into high gear,” said Adam-Rabel, “Being a parent is also revisiting unhealed wounds,” she added. Each stage involves a back-and-forth between parenting her daughter and re-learning how to parent herself. Like swimming in blue, sometimes dark waters, the journey is ongoing.

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Martínez, Sandra Baltazar. (2023, May 8). “Black Mermaids, History, and Spirituality”, UC Riverside News.

Judah, Hettie. 2022. How Not to Exclude Artist Mothers (and Other Parents). Hot Topics in the Art World. Lund Humphries.

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